Our Extra Weight Endangers Food Security and the Environment


We worry a lot about obesity. We see it in headlines and when we walk down the street. The majority of us are smacked by it, a little or a lot, when we step on the scale. We attribute it to sugary drinks and fast food.

Care2′s bloggers have reflected on the role supermarkets play, the startling projection that half of U.S. adults will be obese in 20 years, why BMI (body mass index) may not be the best measurement, and a host of other issues.

A new study gives us another reason for concern. It seems our extra pounds are imperiling the environment and putting global food security at risk.

We have already heard about the impact of obesity on our health care costs. Now a team of U.K. researchers from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine says we need to broaden our perspective.

Next: The Weight of Us All

The scientists used BMI data to calculate the total biomass and average body mass for the population of each country that published enough data to include in the study. Using a complicated algorithm, they worked out that in 2005 the combined weight of all the people on the planet was about 287 million tonnes, 15 of those tonnes due to overweight and another 3.5 to obesity. Their figures led them to conclude that the food energy impact of that excess poundage had about the same impact as a half billion more people sharing the planet.

When they divided the total tonnes by the world’s population, they found the average body mass of people around the globe to be 62 kg. Things started getting particularly interesting when they compared countries. North Americans topped the scale at at 80.7 kg, while Asians weighed in at 57.7 kg.

Almost three quarters of North Americans (73.9 percent) were overweight, compared with 24.2 percent of Asians and 55.6 percent of Europeans. That was 2005. In the seven years since the data were gathered, obesity and overweight have increased around the globe, which means 2012 figures would be even higher.

Next: Why the Numbers Matter

Professor Ian Roberts, one of the study’s authors, told BBC why these numbers matter:

When people think about environmental sustainability, they immediately focus on population. Actually, when it comes down to it – it’s not how many mouths there are to feed, it’s how much flesh there is on the planet.

The heavier we are, the more energy it takes to feed us. It take more fuel to operate our vehicles. Everything we do or buy ends up requiring more resources. The implications are dizzying.

Pointing the finger at family size in Asia and sub-Saharan Africa turns out to be a boomerang. As the US population increases from 310 million in 2010 to a projected 403 million in 2050, the heftier population will “have important implications for world energy requirements.”

The authors of this study caution:

Tackling population fatness may be critical to world food security and ecological sustainability.

Blaming and shaming won’t work. This is a global issue. Each of us holds a piece of the solution puzzle.

Related Care2 Stories

Are Supermarkets to Blame for the Obesity Epidemic?

Will New York’s Proposed Big Size Sugary Drink Ban Fizzle?

Why It Is in Our Best Economic Interest to Fight Obesity

Nearly Half of U.S. Adults Will Be Obese in 20 Years

A Better Way to Understand Obesity’s Impact

McDonald’s Shareholders Reject Health Proposal

Photo 1: Thinkstock; Photo 2 from Kyle May via Flickr Creative Commons; Photo 3 from santian via Flickr Creative Commons

Photo 1: Thinkstock; Photo 2 from Kyle May via Flickr Creative Commons; Photo 3 from santian via Flickr Creative Commons


Jim Ven
Jim Venabout a year ago

thanks for sharing.

Kathy Perez
Kathy Johnson5 years ago

obesity is very disgusting. unnatural. and completely and easily preventable. people simply don't care about their health or the well being of their children. it's a sad reality

Karen Garnett
karen Garnett5 years ago

I thought this article spewed some study facts about which countries were the "heaviest", but that was about it. No real MEAT in the article. I may have missed it, but I never gained any knowledge about exactly WHY this impacted the planet. Sorry.....

Magyar Girl
Past Member 5 years ago


Helen K.

Do you think a bulemic supermodel flying to her latest catwalks around the world has a smaller environmental footprint than a chunky vegetarian who rides a bus to work, picks up most of her dinner foods at the local farmer's market, and keeps down all the food she eats?

Stop fat shaming! People can figure out how to take care of the environment whatever their body size. And a child eventually becomes another 62 kg adult, so population *does* matter, too. Not that people shouldn't have the children they want! And people should think about their own health and choose their food habits wisely. But assuming thin=less consumption and fat=environmentally unfriendly is really unfair to individuals.

Let's recognize different people have different needs and make different choices.

Kerin Worth
Kerin Worth5 years ago

so what can we do?

Luvenia V.
Luvenia V5 years ago

Read and reread the article and soon you to will believe that your fellow humans are nothing but lazy, stupid people, too stupid to control their own lives and the lives of their children. Pay attention because we know what is best for you and if you only put your life into our hands we will make everything okay. We will see you have food, water, shelter and a job. We will see to your every need, we are the corporations that will rule the world and everyone in it.

At the same time they will pollute the air, water, land and the food we eat will be laced with poison. They will tell you how much money you can earn and how many children you can have. They will replace family farms, ranches and companies with Factory Farms, GMO plants and Large Corporations.

Keep buying the propaganda, keep fighting the side effects but NOT the causes and tomorrow they will have you saying it is okay to put overweight people in prison (rehabilitation Centers). Freedom is NOT freedom if you fight to take it away from people YOU disagree with.

Laura D.
Laura D5 years ago

@Sharon--is you seriously think obesity is a viable method of population control, you have no idea how it works. A disease has to kill you before you can bear children for it to be population control. In reality, obesity kills people as they get older. Rarely when they are young.

And while obesity is certainly more of a choice for those in the middle classes and the wealthy, it is not always the case with the poor who must stretch money as tight as they can. Processed foods last longer and are cheaper to eat than perishable fruits that cost more. A mother working 2 or 3 jobs does not often have the luxury of preparing a meal that takes over 5 minutes to cook. Excercise? Hah! Just a fun hobby for the lucky that get that nice 15 minutes to an hours to themselves to have that exercise. A lot of people are living in poverty right now. A lot of people are going to be overweight as a result.

Janna Spektor

Thank you

Ela V.
Ela V5 years ago

Thank you, It's an interesting issue, need to seriously think over